By Rachael Bucci
On July 19th, 2012, several EPA staff and interns demonstrated sampling techniques in Jamaica Bay to members of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance Summer Youth Program. The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) is a group of Rockaway residents dedicated to protecting the health of their waterfront. They engage community members of all ages by encouraging participation in educational, recreational and conservational activities in the area. This trip with us was one of the many opportunities they use to educate local youth. Because Rockaway is economically disadvantaged, the RWA’s work toward and advocacy for local environmental justice is extremely important to the community’s environmental health.
When I first heard of this boating trip to Jamaica Bay, I was bursting with excitement. Yes! Jamaica, here I come! Beaches, waterfalls, zip lining, hopping nightlife! Time for a disclaimer: I am an intern from the Southeast. Northeast geography is as foreign to me as the things people eat on Fear Factor. In hindsight, I realize I was being completely unrealistic about the range of the EPA boat the Clean Waters. We would not, in fact, be sailing to the Caribbean. What we did get to do, however, was spend time with a group of engaging young people with astounding intellectual curiosity.
The crew of the Clean Waters demonstrated what a typical sample collecting trip would entail. First, we discussed all the aspects of sampling: planning, procedures, training, quality assurance, data processing, and result interpretation. Then the students set off to work on a visual and general assessment of the sampling site. How deep is the water, what color is it, what is the latitude and longitude? After that it was on to the fun stuff: water sampling. This training and demonstration included two general types of sampling—in situ and grab. In situ, translated loosely from the Latin to “on site,” means that the monitoring is done on location and without moving the object. Grab sampling is when the object is moved from its location to be analyzed elsewhere. It is the difference between taking a picture of a fish (in situ) and catching the fish and bringing it to a laboratory (grab). Often, these samples can be compared as a means of checking each other.
For the first water quality test, the students placed a Secchi disk into the water. The Secchi disk is a type of in situ sampling. This disk is divided into quarters which are painted alternating black and white. The students lowered the disk into the bay until they could no longer see the pattern. By finding this depth, they found the transparency of the water. More